Instagram, Facebook and Privacy: Rumblings on the Wall

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Within minutes of Monday’s announcement that the world’s biggest social network (Facebook) acquired the world’s hippest (Instagram) for a cool $1 billion, the cries of more lost “privacy” commandeered online conversations. Twitter was the go-to guy to let your followers know what you thought of the deal.

This is not a post about existing privacy settings, changes that may (or may not) take place on Instagram now that it’s part of Facebook or Facebook’s well-known “tweaks” to its privacy settings when they think you’re not looking. This is a post about posting things online and common sense. If you think you’ve heard it all before, click here to read something more interesting. If not, here are three tips to help you understand (or, “get over”) this “invasion of privacy thing”.

1. The idea of social networks is sharing to keep connected online. You may not want to share everything you do with everybody you know. That’s why there are different types of social networks that provide different ways to share with different people identified as “friends”, “followers”, “circles”, etc. Obviously, for those who had recently left Facebook, or use it less, and have turned to Instagram for what they thought was a less invasive, more visual way to interact more anonymously, the Facebook buys Instagram deal is unsettling, but…. 

2. Don’t use any social network with privacy settings you can’t comfortably control to share photos, updates, thoughts or links. It’s simple, kids. Think. I know right now you want to post how much in love you are with your current girlfriend (and why), that your boss is an a-hole and photos that you think are going to gain you fame, fortune and thousands of “likes”. But think for 5 seconds before you post. Ask yourself how important it is for you to share this particular moment in time. If you are 22, pretend for an instant you are 32. If you are 52, pretend you are dead. When you post to social networks (no matter how “protected” you think you are) there is probably a way around its privacy settings for the very determined to access your information.

Consider for 5 more seconds, though, this short-attention span thing. It works both ways. You may think there is an army (or one person) out there who will go to great lengths to access your online information. Think again. That army (or person) probably won’t have the bandwidth – or the savvy – to dig for days to uncover and unlock your Instagram account.

3. Consider something more intimate. A private Tumblr or Blogger blog, perhaps? Both of these are easy, fun and free ways to create an online timeline, diary or collection of photos, videos, personal opinions – rantings, ravings or rumblings. You can use these so-called “online tools” from the privacy of your desktop, laptop or mobile device to post whatever the heck you want. You can keep access to this site 100% private (i.e., for those who are unfamiliar with that concept or perhaps have forgotten about it, it means no one knows about this site but you). Or, you can give select friends, family and colleagues access via a private link (warning: slippery slope ahead).

Bottom line? Even if you password protect this private online site; even if you don’t tell a soul about it, of course, it can be compromised. Do you remember keeping a journal? Writing in a notebook and stashing it somewhere in your bedroom where you thought your mom or your siblings could never find it? Guess what? They did. Same could probably happen with your super-duper, password protected, firewalled within an inch of its being extremely personal and confidential blog. It might not be mom who finds your innermost thoughts. It might be a potential employer or that WikiLeaks guy or one of the Murdochs. But if you’re that worried about it, simply “never put anything in writing” (or in more current terms, “never press the share, publish of upload button”).

Obviously, lots more common sense can be added to these three tips to locking down your online accounts. The very private among us will always feel compromised when it comes to how much to share, when and where. They will argue that it’s not fair that they can’t post that great sunrise photo they just took on Instagram because somebody they went to high school with 20 years ago, worked with 10 years ago, or met randomly 5 minutes ago might see it. If that’s the case, you’ve got to let go of Instagram (or Facebook or Twitter or Insert Social Network not named – or not yet invented – here). The concept of social networking is really not for you. You can’t have your free cake and expect CIA-level security with it, too.

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